Thailand

We have been to Thailand because we have been to Phuket (pronounced Poo Ket) but that’s like saying you’ve been to the US because you’ve been to Key West. Phuket is an island at the very tip of the long skinny handle hanging down the west coast. It’s a long way from Bangkok. In many ways, it is a Third World Country and like many colonies and former colonies, there are a few very rich people and lots of very poor. They seem to be working very hard to improve their educational level, which is a critical first step for anyone to get out of poverty.

Right now, they are between kings. The last one died recently at the age of 89 after a 70-year reign. His 64-year-old son will become king after last one is cremated but that won’t happen for a year. I guess they want to be sure he’s really dead.

The wealth of Phuket came from tin and working tin was a major step up from the Stone Age.  When the tin can was invented, the economy really took off. Interesting contrast to Malaysia, where the wealth came from rubber imported by the British from Brazil and was nearly destroyed by the innovation of synthetic rubber. Here two innovations (tin tools and tin cans) made them and another (plastic) set them back. Tourism is the major piece of the economy now although tin mining is still important.

We visited a small (and poor) village on a small island adjacent to Phuket, populated by the descendents of a group called “sea gypsies,” who have very recently been granted full citizenship in Thailand; not sure they wanted it. Beyond entertaining tourists with traditional songs, dances, and costumes, they are still fishermen.

Traditionally, they did not live anywhere. They would set up temporary camps where some kind of fish was in season and harvest enough to live on. Then they moved on to the next cove and lived off whatever lived there. They moved around the island at regular intervals, which prevented over-harvesting anywhere. It worked for thousands of years. Today they have a permanent settlement, cable TV, motor bikes, and tourists staring at them. They were delightful and happy to see us. (That photo is still uploading.)

Motor bike doesn’t begin to describe the vehicle. It starts with a motor scooter, or small motorcycle, to which was attached a “sidecar,” which if it were behind a pick-up would be called a trailer. In our travels, we saw these contraptions being driven by men, women, and children (by children, I mean 10 or 12 years old) with whole families of five or six people in and on the sidecar. They also figured prominently in the markets as pop-up stalls. When set up, the bike barely shows, behind and under a display table generally with an awning. The display could be fruits and vegetables, chicken that looked like KFC or something else, refrigerator magnets, clothes or jewelry covering a significant price range. I would have like to see them fold it up and drive away.

DSCN0210We also saw a two-hundred year old Buddhist temple, a local museum, and brand new jewelry store that was more like an art gallery with some truly astonishing things in the price range of 350,000 of whatever the local currency is. The exchange rate is 35 to $1 US, so they actually seemed quite reasonable. We didn’t buy. The photo above is the 200-year-old part of the temple; there are other parts that are much more recent (but seem to have the same architect.)

DSCN0231The big, white Buddha is on top of a mountain probably 10 miles away; this was super-zoom with a hand-held camera and no filters shot from the top of the temple so don’t criticize.

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